New Study Is First to Show Brain Training Exercises Are More Effective at Improving Cognitive Function than Crossword Puzzles

A new study shows that the use of brain training exercises are more effective at improving cognitive function than simply performing knowledge or ingenuity games, like crossword puzzles. This is the preliminary analysis of the results of the first 511 of 681 participants to complete the Iowa Healthy and Active Minds Study (IHAMS) that was presentedat the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) 64th Annual Scientific Meeting in Boston.

The study, which will be completed in January and for which the interim results were published this week in BMJ Open, found that just 10 hours of using the brain training software improved cognitive function on several standard neuropsychological tests. This is the case whether it is used in a supervised clinical setting, or self-administered at home using the family PC.  Moreover, this study included younger (60-64 year old) and older (65-87 year old) participants, and the brain training software worked equally well for both groups.

The IHAMS is a follow up to the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) multi-site study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In a series of articles in medical journals over the past five years, the ACTIVE study showed brain plasticity software improved visual processing speed, reduced predicted medical expenditures, protected against major declines in health-related quality of life, reduced the chances of increasing depressive symptoms and the onset of suspected clinical depression, improved self-rated health, and improved the sense of control for up to five years.

Led by principal investigator Dr. Fred Wolinsky from the Department of Health Management and Policy at the University of Iowa, the NIH-funded IHAMS was designed to overcome the limitations of the ACTIVE study (whose participants were all age 65 or older) by including younger participants (ages 50 or older). The 681 IHAMS participants were randomized into four groups: the first received 10 hours of onsite brain training with the Posit Science® Road Tour brain training exercise program in a clinical setting where they were monitored. The second group did the same, but also had 4 hours of ‘booster’ training after 11 months. The third group engaged in 10 hours of crossword puzzle activity in a monitored clinical setting. The fourth group took the brain training software home to use on their own PC at their leisure. All groups were assessed prior to the start of the study, at 6 to 8 weeks into the study, and then at 12 months.

Early results are that participants who used the brain training software showed significantly larger improvements in their cognitive capabilities on several standard neuropsychological tests of cognitive functioning than did the participants who trained on crossword puzzles. The improvements in cognitive function were the same whether the brain exercises were done in the monitored clinical setting or in the participant’s home. These positive changes were observed in as little as 8 weeks, and were sustained over 12 months. The improvements for the younger participants were just as large as those for the older participants, indicating that brain training could and should be started sooner rather than later.

“There has been debate in the scientific community regarding how well brain training works versus other recreational mental activities, such as learning a new language or doing crossword puzzles,” said Dr. Fred Wolinsky, John W. Colloton Chair in Health Management and Policy, University of Iowa. “This study clearly demonstrates that the use of specially constructed exercises for the purpose of brain fitness – such as the speed-of-processing core of DriveSharp and InSight – not only work, they are far more effective at improving cognitive function than other games or recreational activities.”

The Road Tour brain training exercise used in IHAMS is one of five exercises in the Posit Science InSight brain fitness DriveSharp™ software, and is also part of DriveSharp, a shorter cognitive training program focused around driving safety. The purpose of InSight is to improve visual capability by speeding up the brain’s ability to process what it sees, and refine visual memory and precision. One of the improvements will be in a user’s ‘useful field of view’ (UFOV): the visual scope within which details can be viewed and from which the brain can extract information, without eye movement. Over time, a person’s UFOV can shrink. UFOV is also a visual training and evaluation technology, and there are many published studies exploring UFOV. Improving UFOV has proven to boost automobile driving skill and safety. The format of the Road Tour exercise is a spotlight view of a road trip being driven down Route 66. It works to expand the edges of a user’s UFOV.

Clinical studies have shown that InSight speeds up visual processing by up to 300%, enhances visual working memory, and improves brain activation in areas related to attention and focus. InSight and DriveSharp both have been clinically shown to help drivers cut risk of a car crash by 50%, avoid unexpected dangers on the road, stop up to 22 feet sooner when traveling at 55 mph, expand UFOV by an average of 200%, and reduce dangerous driving maneuvers like unsafe lane changes by 38%.




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